Love is like that only

Ranbir owns ae dil... even as the film explores love and friendship in KJO zone

By Pratim D. Gupta
  • Published 29.10.16


Director: Karan Johar 

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Anushka Sharma, Fawad Khan

Running time: 158 minutes

Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is a beautiful but needy cauldron where every possible love story potion is added, one after the other, in the desperate quest to make the old wine taste new. There’s the unrequited romance, the love vs friendship fight, the strictly physical liaison and even the terminal disease card at play here. It’s like kneading Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kal Ho Naa Ho and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna into the same film. 

The one thing you can’t blame KJo of is being humble. In the first scene itself, one character says: “I don’t like jokes; I don’t like you!” and the other character says: “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.” These people presumably in their mid-20s, one born and brought up in the UK (and half-British, given his surname is Sanger) and the other a pro of the London party scene, are somehow Bollywood junkies and mouth only dialogues from Hindi movies and dance to old desi songs.

In this Karan Johar party at the theatres, once you get past the self-referential face-palm moments, you actually have fun with these two people — Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) and Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) — who after a clumsy make-out session that results in only giggles, become the best of buddies. 

From singing Gaata rahe mera dil on the streets to twerking to Babydoll in a dance class to doing the chiffon and the cognac Chandni-style in the snow, the Ayan-Alizeh friendship is a celebration of the best and worst of Hindi movies old and new in KJo’s inimitable light-handed style and perhaps worth the ticket price alone. 

Even as Ayan starts feeling attracted to Alizeh, he is well and truly friendzoned by her. She’s still got DJ Ali’s (Fawad Khan) name tattooed on her hand and when the man does appear behind the turntable at a party in Paris, she quickly gets dissolved in her old love. By the time Ayan attends their wedding in Lucknow, he is deeply in love with her and his broken heart makes Mr Sanger a singer in true Rockstar fashion.

In the second half, putting words to his music comes along shaayera Saba (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), who is quite blunt in her demands from the relationship with Ayan — spare the heart. But she is in no mood to friendzone him as the Urdu-spouting cougar descends on the lost and lovelorn boy, the two making sumptuous love to a remixed version of Aaj jaane ki zid naa karo. So far so good until Saba’s ex-husband (Shah Rukh Khan cameo alert, after Alia Bhatt pop-up as a DJ in the first half) comes and lectures Ayan on the uniquely sweet disposition of one-sided love.

Alizeh’s number is unblocked and she is again pulled into the middle. In a very awkward dinner in Saba’s Vienna house featuring the three, it becomes uncomfortably clear as to who wants what, leading to unpleasant consequences. From there on, the plot twists and turns relentlessly trying to reach uncharted territories in the Bolly love game but keeps ending up in the same ol’ friendship vs romance junoon vs sukoon tug-of-war.

Eighteen years into this now, Karan Johar still wants to sweep his audiences off their feet and maybe even their senses with the irresistible snare of aspiration. But that these characters are born out of Bollywood pop culture and cannot exist in real life, only hurts the truth of the joy and pain they feel and the emotions they display. The same crisis in an Imtiaz Ali film or even in Dharma’s own recent productions rings more true because the setting and the roots are way more real.

What has often bailed KJo out is his casting coup and the way he uses stars in his script. In Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, he brings back the failed Bombay Velvet duo of Ranbir and Anushka but puts them in a Kuch Kuch Hota Hai redux space of two adults behaving like zippy teenagers. No matter how cheesy the lines or how fake the moment, the two pull them off with elan, with a chemistry so infectious you root for them from very early on.

Anushka’s Alizeh is (again) born out of Jab We Met’s Geet in her no-holds-barred attitude to love and life. The energy is also reminiscent of her character from Jab Tak Hai Jaan, but there is also a beautiful thehrav somewhere in the mix. She is spunky and fun and hasn’t looked better in a long time.

But it is Ranbir who owns Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. In the silences, in the stares, in the silly smiles, in the sustained suffering. In the Alizeh fever in the first half, don’t miss how delightfully gawky he is, visibly struggling to form sentences at times. And despite having played roles that perilously border on Ayan in Tamasha and Rockstar, Ranbir creates an all-new character who cannot teach his heart to unlove.

Both Aishwarya and Fawad are used as handsome props, so that you never question the choices of Ranbir and Anushka. You never get to know the dark secrets of Saba and Ali because somewhere they are mere catalysts meant to push you even closer towards the Ayan-Alizeh relationship. 

In the mandatory Dharma checklist of including a nightclub song, a wedding song, a sad song, a Sufi song, there is a palpable fatigue despite the excellent Pritam soundtrack. Channa mereya just before the intermission is easily the best picturised of the lot and that long Ranbir close-up, looking straight into the camera, at the start of Ae dil hai mushkil stays with you. The magician Anil Mehta couldn’t have made the frames look more delicious.

The last time KJo made a full-blown love story was a decade back in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. In these 10 years the very definition of a Bollywood romance has been rewritten many times. But Karan Johar the writer-director hasn’t changed one bit. For the good and for the bad. Like a heart beating in love. Because it knows no other way.

The best and worst things about Ae Dil... is... Tell